Friday, October 2, 2009

Giving back our bit to Ram Rahimnagar

The Hindu and Muslim residents of Ram Rahimnagar have done what no one else in Ahmedabad could do: maintain peace in all of the biggest waves of communal violence ever to hit Ahmedabad – 1969, 1985, 1992-93, 2002. Quite justifiably, they believe that their achievement is unmatchable and that it is now the society’s turn to not only hold their hands but lead them to their destination.

We, at Open Space Ahmedabad, teamed up with concerned citizens -- ActionAid, Aman Samuday, Indian Institute of Management, Saath, Jan Manthan, Meet International Disabled Helpline, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel for RTI Act -- and attempted to do just that on September 27, 2009.

Veteran journalist Pradeep Mallik has succintly given the complete picture of this attempt, in his weekly column in Ahmedabad Mirror.

Read it here:

The Times of India reported it on Sep. 28, 2009. Read it here:

For more on the other side of the legendary Ram Rahimnagar, you may go to our earlier post. Read it here:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ram Rahimnagar: Cracks in the citadel of peace

Inaccessible education, unemployment and fear of displacement are threatening the peace in Ram-Rahimnagar, the settlement in Ahmedabad where Hindus and Muslims have kept the peace over four major communal riots. This is a disturbing picture of a settlement that is celebrated as a model of communal harmony.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Interaction with artists, in collaboration with IIM-A

Artist interaction on 'Bridging Cultures: Living Together' art project

In collaboration with Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

The 'Bridging Cultures' canvas displayed at IIM-A

It was an honour for Open Space Ahmedabad when the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and its Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (IIM-A) acknowledged the innovative social experiment that Open Space Ahmedabad conducted in March this year with its 'Bridging Cultures: Living Together' paintings. (see our earlier post:

On August 4, Open Space held an interaction of the artists with audience members -- faculty and students of IIM-A and other civic and educational institutions. This event was the fourth in our ‘Bridging Cultures: Living Together’ : the first being the camp itself, second the display of the canvas in an art gallery on April 11, third the display of the canvas on the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad campus in June and now the interaction with audiences in collaboration with IIM-A. This was the first time in six months that Open Space in Ahmedabad brought together an audience that was largely non-Gujarati where their interaction was with Gujarat-based artists.

From left: Love, Jignesh, Megha, Deepa, Sudeshna during the art camp in March

Five of the six young artists who made the painting answered questions and gave comments about the theme of the painting, their experience working as a team on a single canvas, techniques and use of specific colours, whether the theme of diversity is reflected in subsequent works. These were Deepa Mehta, Love Mevada, Hiral Vyas, Megha Vyas and Jignesh Vanza. Sudeshna Sil has returned to her hometown, Kolkata, having finished her studies in Ahmedabad. “We understood the word ‘diversity’ only by its dictionary meaning. I have not yet understood it completely but have started looking at it closely in my own life now,” Love said, to a question from an audience member about the impact of the theme on their lives. Deepa added, “Initially we were very scared of losing our individuality on canvas. Each one was waiting to dominate their frames on canvas. Our biggest challenge – in which we succeeded – was to get rid of this ‘me first’ mentality".

The most interesting part about the interaction was the interpretation of the painting by the audience members. Most saw it as seven different frames and some derived a holistic meaning from it. As the principal of RH Patel Arts and Commerce College, Prof. SN Iyer said, “It’s a ‘democratic’ canvas -- no one can interpret it in just one way, just like no one can explain society or life in one way.” The candour among audience members was equally interesting. An engineering student found “little logic” to how the art world works. To which an architecture student said that artists work in a free-flowing way, yet there is logic there because ultimately there is a connection of thoughts and a final outcome. “It’s like people connecting through a matrix. There’s some bit of engineering and some bit of free-flowing flexibility. It is as inexplicable as diversity in real life!” The audience comprised PhD students (Fellow Programme in Management) of IIM-A, lecturers and principal of RH Patel College of Commerce and Arts, faculty and staff of IIM-A, engineering and architecture students, youth participants from former Open Space Ahmedabad events, an officer from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, among others. The interaction was facilitated by urban planner-theatre actress Manvita Baradi from Ahmedabad with one of our art camp resource persons, Esther David, present to reply to art-related questions.

What made this series of 'Bridging Culture' events a unique experiment? Open Space in Ahmedabad aims to bridge social divides of caste, religion, sex and economic status among youth of the city by means of outreach events. These events act as engaging forms of collective activity that coerce participants to work as teams and, thereby, interact with one another and appreciate one another's cultural and social background. We ensure social diversity in selection of participants, as was done in our team of artists in the 'Bridging Cultures' project -- all six artists belonged to different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

At the display of the 'Bridging Cultures' painting on April 11, 2009 at Catharsis Art Gallery

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Theatre workshop marks six months of Open Space in Ahmedabad

Open Space Ahmedabad completed six months this June. Our objective was simple : bridge inter-community divides using collective participation of youth in group activities that are engaging and entertaining. In these six months, OS-A has successfully brought 13 events to our city youth. My experience as an OS Fellow in Ahmedabad, during this time, has shown that inter-community interaction works best in group-activity workshops that last more than a day and/or at least six-eight hours if a day-long event. The vox pop film-making workshop brought out this quite successfully (it was a month-long event) and so did the RTI workshop where the six-hour workshop and group activity worked very well. Adopting the same method for the theatre workshop -- a four-hour-a-day, five-day event -- the Open Space Ahmedabad theatre workshop, based on the theme of 'Social Exclusion', proved to be our most successful event so far.

Participants during a theatre game displaying the skill of gauging the body language of a co-artiste

The Ahmedabad Theatre Group, led by prominent award-winning Gujarati theatre artiste and former National School of Drama graduate, Rajoo Barot, conducted the workshop, perfectly balancing the theme of the workshop with the skills of theatre using the ‘guru-chela’ snippets by noted writer Asghar Wajahat as scripts for group skits.

Mugdha and Hitesh perform under the keen supervision of Rajoobhai

Along with learning the ropes of theatre, the workshop also became a forum for willful interaction between the Hindu and Muslim participants. It was perhaps the five days of a collective activity that brought the participants into a familiar circle. Without our intervention and more out of curiosity, each asked the other questions that have perplexed them about religion : triple talaq, cremation versus burial of dead bodies, non-vegetarianism, Sunni-Shia, ‘jumme-jumme nahana’ i.e. the perceived practice among Muslims of bathing only on Fridays, were some of the questions put across to Muslim participants. This was a very significant occurrence – as many participants told me – because they had never got a chance to interact with Muslims on these issues earlier.

Imran rehearses a scene with Rajoobhai

Jaideep and Anurag enact an Asghar Wajahat script

Mehjabeen with Alex on the final day of the workshop

Open Space Ahmedabad is grateful to its team of partners, including Ahmedabad Theatre Group, RH Patel Arts and Commerce College, Promoting Arts Network and St. Xavier's Behavioural Science Centre for this event.

Friday, June 26, 2009

'Are we really different?'

A 5-day theatre workshop on the theme 'Exclusion' with award-winning actor-director-singer Rajoo Barot

Are we really different...? Is it fair to be excluded on the basis of caste, language, faith, food habits, dress or region? Is it essential to fit the social stereotype to be acceptable?

Details: June 29 to July 3, 5pm to 9pm, St. Xavier's Behavioural Science Centre, St. Xavier's College campus.

Event partners: Ahmedabad Theatre Group, RH Patel Arts and Commerce College, Promoting Arts Network, St. Xavier's Behavioural Science Centre

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The RTI Toolkit: Use it Effectively : May 31, 2009

'The RTI Toolkit: Use it Effectively' -- a day-long workshop for the youth on the Right to Information Act Venue and timings: Kochrab Ashram (Paldi), 11 am to 4.30 pm.

Open Space Ahmedabad in collaboration with Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel and Gujarat Vidyapith conducted an activity-based workshop for youth in the age group 18-35 on issues that affect them directly or indirectly, such as education, civic issues, social welfare etc. Mr. Harinesh Pandya and Ms. Pankti Jog of MAGP demonstrated the effectiveness of RTI, how and where it can be used and how it can help the youth in becoming aware of their rights and in improving their life.

The Times of India: June 1, 2009

Screening and appreciation of 'Mumbai Meri Jaan' with Jay Vasavada: May 23, 2009

'Mumbai Meri Jaan' (2008) is a perceptive account of five individuals and their personal fears and trauma in the context of the Mumbai train blasts of July 11, 2006. It won the Filmfare Critics' Choice Award for Best Film of 2008.

Open Space Ahmedabad had the pleasure of associating with noted writer-orator-film Jay Vasavada to discuss with the viewers some of the topical issues of media ethics, religious stereotypes, prejudice, idealism, economic disparity and immigration that the film raises.

Viewers being diverse in terms of their economic and religious backgrounds, the Q&A with the erudite "JV", as Jay Vasavada is fondly called across Gujarat, was multi-dimensional. Ranjit Gohil, a "Muslim-with-a-Hindu name" said he understood both worlds because of his name, how he met people like the bigot, Suresh,(played by Kay Kay Menon in the movie) and what Muslims themselves need to introspect about to overcome the strong stereotypes they have created for themselves. As another young viewer added, "We need to stop living in boxes".